Memorial Masses in the Catholic Church are a somber occasion during which the bereaved can congregate to find comfort and deepen their faith in God. Songs and prayers are woven throughout the mass, often with family members taking part in the Liturgies.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What’s a Memorial Mass?
- Difference Between a Memorial Mass and a Funeral Mass
- Memorial Mass Order of Service
- Common Memorial Mass Readings
If you’re not familiar with the Catholic faith, you’ll soon come to understand that memorial and funerary masses are rich with traditions. Conversely, if you’re already part of the faith, you’ll be reconnected with some familiar rituals. Step by step, we’ll take you through the stages of a memorial Mass so that you’ll know what to expect.
What’s a Memorial Mass?
Memorial Masses are for those whose body or cremains are not present. Reasons for the absence include someone who is unrecoverable, whether that means they disappeared or there’s no way to identify where the body is based on traumatic circumstances. Or, it can also mean that the body was buried somewhere else for various reasons.
With that, a waiting period of up to 30 days may be required before the memorial Mass is performed.
Difference Between a Memorial Mass and a Funeral Mass
The most significant difference between a Catholic funeral mass and a memorial Mass is the body's absence. With that, the general order of Introductory Rites will alter slightly. As the placing of the pall or Christian symbols will not be available, the Priest will instead greet the Congregation and offer prayers.
As the Procession to the Place of Committal will also be unavailable, the Priest will dismiss the Congregation. Depending on the Priest and parish, a few other things will be omitted, such as communion and the hymnal "Song of Farewell".
Memorial Mass Order of Service
Listed here is an overview of the Order of Service for a Memorial Mass. You'll find what to expect, who takes part, including the Priest, and what happens. You may find differences from parish to parish, but they generally use the following outline for the service.
Part I: Introductory Rites
Without a body present, some traditional funeral rites can’t take place. In place of those rites, the Priest will enter the church, greet the Congregation, offer a Penitential Act, and then say a prayer. If a body was present, there would be a sprinkling of Holy water with a greeting from the Priest.
There would also be a placing of the pall by family members or the funeral staff. A Christian symbol, such as a Bible, would be placed atop the pall on the casket.
Part II: Liturgy of the Word
Here, family members will have the opportunity to read chosen texts from the Bible to deliver to the memorial Mass's mourners. Then, the Priest will deliver a Homily to the Congregation before responsorial participation in a few Universal Prayers.
Family members will read selections from the Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospel. Scroll down for two common readings from each book as examples for review.
During the Homily, the Priest will refer to the deceased, their lives, their family, and relate this to God's plan. Here, the Priest honors the individual with words of wisdom, praise, and acknowledgment of devotion.
After the Homily, a selection of up to six Universal Prayers will be spoken by the Priest. Two examples are:
- Priest: “That all who have died rest in God's glory. We pray to the Lord...”
Group: “Lord, hear our prayer.”
- Priest: “That the sick and the suffering, the ill and infirm, receive the tender loving care they need. We pray to the Lord...”
Group: “Lord, hear our prayer.”
If a loved one had a particular fondness for some texts, the Liturgy of the Word would be the time to read them. Otherwise, the parish Priest will provide any assistance needed in selecting these readings if the family is unsure.
Part III: Liturgy of the Eucharist
If you’re unfamiliar with this Liturgy, it’s a time where parishioners directly bond with Christ through bread and wine. The Priest will reference the body and blood of Christ. And it is believed that through prayer, the bread fully represents Jesus's body and the wine, blood. Both of which Jesus gave on behalf of mankind so that their sins may be redeemed.
Commonly, family members assist the Priest during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Two people will bring the bread and wine to the Priest, and the number of needed Eucharistic Ministers will help distribute communion with him.
Those who are part of the Catholic faith follow the Procession forward to receive communion. Otherwise, those who are not Catholic often remain in the pews until the completion of the Liturgy. Many people who aren't Catholic attend memorial and funeral Masses out of respect for the deceased. So, there's no reason to feel uncomfortable while others move around you to participate in the ceremony.
Part IV: Final Commendation
The Final Commendation is an optional part of the service and is unlike a Eulogy. Eulogies are suitable for wakes, family gatherings, and funeral ads placed in newspapers. They are often emotional speeches, intended to bring people to laughter and tears while citing stories from the deceased and things they've accomplished in their lives.
However, this Final Commendation is about deepening the faith of those in attendance while offering comfort in a distressing time. A chosen family member will cover topics such as:
- How the deceased lived their faith daily, whether in work, community, or family life
- Statements about the person’s character and treatment of others in these various places
Priests recommend that the Final Commendation remain short, that the speaker prepares the commentary ahead of time, and that they thank everyone for their prayers and love during such a difficult time. Those words may include answers to the following questions:
- Do my stories help others understand the Christian legacy through the lens of the deceased?
- Will my words provide comfort to the family and friends listening?
- How do my words help others define a parallel between the decedent's life and the Catholic faith's fullness?
The person giving the Final Commendation has an opportunity to help their family heal, reflect on life and relationships with the deceased, and come to understand better the bonds they have with faith during life—and those who have passed.
Part V: Procession to the Place of Committal
As the deceased's body is absent, the family can not participate in the Procession to the Place of Committal. That said, this is generally the conclusion of the Mass where the Priest offers some additional prayers before the body is committed to the Earth. In a Memorial Mass, the Priest will simply conclude the Mass and dismiss everyone.
There are also several opportunities for the inclusion of Catholic funeral songs throughout the service. For those planning the ceremony, you can consult with your parish for a list of hymnals from which to choose.
Depending on the day, you can enlist the Resurrection Choir or Cantor (or both) to sing during the memorial Mass. The following parts of the service require a music selection:
- Gathering Hymn, such as “I Heard the Voice of Jesus.”
- Responsorial Psalm, such as “The Lord is My Light.”
- Hymn for Preparation of Gifts, such as “Amazing Grace.”
- Hymn for Communion, such as “How Great Thou Art.”
- Recessional Hymn, such as “Sing with All the Saints in Glory.”
Contact the Director of Sacred Music & Liturgy for any assistance you may need in choosing the appropriate songs for this memorial Mass. Should you choose a non-parish musician, there may be a few guidelines that the Director of Music will ask you to honor, including additional rehearsals. If you’re not familiar with providing stipends to those helping you in this portion of the service, the funeral director will commonly guide you through the process.
Note: as the service is sacred, no secular music, ethnic, or religious songs are permitted. Those songs are best suited for the funeral home or any gathering afterward.
Common Memorial Mass Readings
During the funeral, readings include one from the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Gospel, including a Homily spoken by the Priest.
1. Song of Solomon 8:6-7
Solomon succeeded his father, King David, and reigned for almost 40 years. He is admired for his wisdom.
2. Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
Chapter three of the book of Ecclesiastes is about the reverence for all of creation.
3. Ephesians 3:14-21
Ephesians 3:14-21 is a prayer for spiritual strength, living with Christ in one's heart, reading spirituality, and experiencing the full love for Christ.
4. 1 Peter 1:3-5
Fitting for a memorial service, the reader is told how Christ died for man's sin and that God holds salvation for them.
5. “The Eight Beatitudes”
These teachings were delivered during Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, offering what attitudes and actions a disciple or follower should embody.
6. “There are many rooms in my Father’s House”
In John 14:2, he says that God’s home is so vast and wonderful that it can house many who believe in His glory.
What Happens During a Catholic Memorial Mass?
Tradition and ritual are essential parts of the Catholic faith as the deceased receive their final rites through the church. After reading this, hopefully, you are more prepared to participate or know what to expect when attending.
- Bible Hub: Search, Read, Study the Bible in Many Languages. (n.d.). biblehub.com/
- Order of a Memorial Mass. (2019). St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church. stanpr.org/order-of-a-memorial-mass/
- Preparing for a funeral mass or memorial mass at St. Francis of Assisi Parish. (n.d.). sfastl.org/media/1/funeral/Funeral%20Mass%20Planning%20at%20St%20Francis%20of%20Assisi%20v2.pdf
- Suggested Readings for Catholic Funerals. (2020). Sacred Heart Church. www.sacredheartdetroit.com/suggested-readings-for-catholic-funerals/
- Universal Prayer / Prayer of The Faithful / General Intercessions / Petitions (n.d.). www.sfaorland.org/uploads/7/9/3/9/79395666/universal_prayer_for_weddings.pdf
- Universal Prayer at Funeral Mass. (n.d.). Our Lady Mother of the Church. www.ourladymotherchurch.com/universal-prayer-at-funeral-mass/